(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester successfully introduced, spearheaded, and sent 19 veterans bills to the President’s desk in his second year as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. These new laws are part of Tester’s continued commitment to deliver timelier, quality care, benefits, and services to veterans and their families in Montana and nationwide at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“We took great strides this year on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to make good on our promises to veterans and their families across the country—making it one of our most productive Congresses yet,” said Tester. “I’m especially proud to have worked with Republicans and Democrats to deliver toxic-exposed veterans of all generations historic relief under the PACT Act—a bill that’ll do right by these men and women for years to come. It’s an honor of lifetime to serve as Chairman of this committee, and I look forward to continuing the good work alongside my colleagues, veterans, Veterans Service Organizations, Military Service Organizations, and other stakeholders in the new year to keep holding the Administration accountable in delivering our nation’s bravest the support they need, earned, and deserve.”
President Joe Biden signed the following veterans’ bills authored by Tester in 2022:
- Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act – Bipartisan law that provides health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, expands VA’s list of conditions presumed to be service-connected, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, and improves resources to support claims processing, hiring, and facilities.
- Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act – Bipartisan law to expand veterans’ access to high-quality breast cancer screenings and lifesaving cancer care. This bill would require VA to develop a strategic plan to improve breast imaging services, create a telemammography pilot program for veterans in areas where VA does not offer in-house mammography, and expand veterans’ access to clinical trials through partnerships with the National Cancer Institute.
- Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act – Bipartisan law to provide the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) the authority to subpoena testimony from former VA employees who have left federal service, former contractor personnel who performed work for the Department, or other potentially relevant individuals during the course of its inspections, reviews, and investigations. Under current law, VA OIG does not have this essential oversight tool, which can limit VA OIG and Congress’ ability to conduct complete and thorough oversight.
- Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Act of 2022 – Bipartisan law to increase certain VA benefits including disability compensation, clothing allowances, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses, parents, and children.
- VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act – Bipartisan law to increase transparency of VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program by requiring the VA Secretary to submit quarterly reports to Congress regarding the costs, performance metrics, and patient safety issues related to the EHRM.
- Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act of 2022 – Bipartisan law to streamline VA’s 85/15 Rule, a school reporting requirement that prohibits VA from paying benefits to students enrolling in education programs where more than 85 percent of the students in that program use the G.I. Bill or other funding from the Department.
- Fiscal Year 2023 Expiring Authorities Act – Bipartisan law that includes extensions for critical VA services and programs that veterans and their families rely on—ensuring a smooth continuation of their hard-earned benefits and support. This law also reauthorized key veterans’ advisory committees, including the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans and the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education.
- Fiscal Year 2022 Major Medical Facility Authorization Act – Bipartisan law that authorizes VA major medical facility construction projects critical to allowing VA to deliver modern healthcare and conduct cutting edge research to benefit veterans. This law authorizes projects in Mississippi, New York, Texas, California, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Missouri.
- A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to transfer the name of property of the Department of Veterans Affairs designated by law to other property of the Department – Bipartisan law to streamline the transfer of Congressionally-approved VA facility names. This bill will allow facilities across the country, including the David J. Thatcher VA Clinic in Missoula, to easily carry over facility names in the event of a relocation.
- National Cemeteries Preservation and Protection Act of 2022 – Bipartisan law to support tribal veterans’ cemeteries by requiring VA to pay plot allowances for native veterans buried at tribal veterans cemeteries and authorize eco-friendly burial methods.
He also secured a package of veterans’ legislation and the following bills he authored as part of an omnibus federal funding package, otherwise known as the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Omnibus Appropriations Package, in his role as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee:
- The Joseph Maxwell Cleland and Robert Joseph Dole Memorial Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2022—A package of veterans’ legislation to improve access to health care at VA and in the community, including mental health care; improve care for veterans in rural areas; bolster services for aging veterans; improve research-related matters; advance opportunities for student veterans; expand and modify programs for homeless veterans, and more.
- Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021—Legislation to permanently cut red tape on capital grants provided by VA for organizations assisting veterans experiencing homelessness. It will ensure organizations have many of the necessary flexibilities to continue supporting veterans and avoid derailing their progress toward effectively ending veterans homelessness.
- Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2021—Bipartisan legislation to establish a pilot program to provide travel reimbursements for low-income veterans in advance of medical appointments and require the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct assessments on how to best support veterans traveling long distances to access essential care.
- Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2021—Bipartisan legislation Tester first introduced in 2019 to increase transparency, accountability, and improve performance of information technology systems and projects at VA.
- Veterans Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act—Bipartisan legislation to expand VA treatment and research of prostate cancer, which is the number one cancer diagnosed by the Veterans Health Administration.
- VA Supply Chain Resiliency Act—Bipartisan legislation to improve VA’s supply chain issues, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021—Bipartisan legislation to strengthen VA’s mental health care workforce, expand care options, and support mental health research at the Department.
- Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act—Bipartisan legislation to improve the Veterans Crisis Line’s staff training, management, and response to veteran callers at risk of suicide.
- American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act—Bipartisan legislation requiring VA medical centers to consult with local tribes and deliver tailored outreach and culturally competent mental health care to Native veterans.
Chairman Tester received the following awards for his efforts on behalf of veterans and their families in the 117th Congress: the Student Veterans of America’s Sonny Montgomery Student Veteran Champion Award, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ 2021 Policy Award, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors’ TAPS Congressional Award, the Retired Enlisted Association’s Legislator of the Year Award, the Fleet Reserve Association’s Pinnacle Award, the Jefferson Islands Club Citizen of the Year Award, and the Wounded Warrior Project’s Legislator of the Year Award.
When Congress returns in January, Tester is committed to working to expand critical health care and benefits to the nation’s veterans, their families, and survivors. Continuing his fight to ensure veterans have access to the timely and quality care they have earned, the Chairman will push to pass the bipartisan Major Richard Star Act, Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act, Native American Direct Loan Improvement Act, and Build, Utilize, Invest, Learn, and Deliver (BUILD) for Veterans Act. He will also keep holding VA accountable in implementing landmark laws such as the PACT Act, monitoring the expansion of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to veterans of all eras, and continue conducting aggressive oversight over the Department’s troubled new electronic health record system.
Tester has been a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since 2007, and is the only member of the Montana delegation who sits on the Committee. For years, he has been a champion for veterans in the Senate, working with various Veterans Service Organizations to push critical initiatives such as the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, the Deborah Sampson Act, and the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans, Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act.
A one-pager on Tester’s total legislative accomplishments for veterans in the 117th Congress can be found HERE.